Members Speak: Jim and Wendie Highsmith

Making a Difference, then and now-Wendie Highsmith: March 2, 2014

Wendie and Jim Highsmith

I am Wendie Highsmith. Jim and I have been at Boulder Valley UU for less than a year but Unitarian Universalists for a long time. You are my 5th UU congregation and Jim’s 7th, but who’s counting?

First, Salt Lake City
While in SLC, our minister sought ways he might make a difference in our community. He found an elementary school south of our church, one full of marginalized kids from mostly poor backgrounds, who came and went as their families needed to move because of jobs, the law, lack of money, the law. There were more than enough kids who needed support with their reading because they had fallen behind, mostly due to the upheaval in their lives. He took the training funded by the UT state legislature for the “I Can Read” program at Midvale Elem and invited us to do the same. About a dozen of us said “yes.”

This was new territory for me, but I thought I’d give it a try. I was assigned two kids reading at least a grade level below where they belonged. One was Kevin, a really cute kid who could have been doing television commercials for Smuckers jam. He was in the 3rd grade but barely reading at 1st grade level. With the training and books provided by the program, and guidance from his teacher, I sat down with him each Tuesday when he was there…practicing words, sounds, stumbling through the most basic sentences in the most basic books. He never said, “I don’t’ want to.” We kept plugging away, but to where??

One Tuesday, he looked at the sentence he had struggled with and read it through clearly. I saw the light bulb go on that day in Kevin. The expression on his face was different. He knew. Unfortunately, the school year was nearly over, and his teachers would have to decide if he stayed in 3rd grade or moved ahead. I often wonder what happened to him….Did his reading continue to improve? Did his mother enroll him in the summer program at Midvale? I will never know.

I do know that when that light bulb went on for Kevin, it went on for me. Here was “Justice rolling down like waters.” I wasn’t protesting in the streets or making a big splash, I was sitting next to a child who needed more than he had been given thus far.

Did I make a difference? I don’t know…I gave it a try and will again. YOU JUST DO IT ANYWAY!

City Council Issues-Flagstaff, AZ
About 8 years ago, the Flagstaff city council was considering an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and accommodations because of race, religion or gender orientation. I drafted a letter in behalf of our congregation in support of the ord. After it failed the first time, with Knees shaking, I stood before city council one night to speak for the ordinance. It was personal! Denying employment or a hotel room to my sister, because of who she is, was unconscionable. The ordinance failed, and failed again, but finally passed in 2013. UUs have been at the forefront of that effort and last week’s AZ debacle. If that bill had not been vetoed, it would have nullified the city council ordinance.

I am retired; Jim works quarter time. We are not in the 1%. We are increasing our pledge because we want to do our part in support of BV’s reaching its goals and funding its dreams. Now is my time as a Steward of this congregation…to nurture, protect, support, arrange flowers and candles, sing in the choir, ensure our employees receive fair compensation, and bear witness to the Power of Unitarian Universalism.I want to leave this place on solid footing for those who come after me, just as those 46 founding members did for us almost 35 years ago.